Dear Friends in Christ,
“It was December, and another Christmas was at our throats.” The English humorist P.G. Wodehouse thus described the unholy frenzy that too often accompanies the approach of December 25th, and it is a sentiment most of us can readily understand. To avoid succumbing to hat feeling, we need to see what the Grinch perceived with wonder from the summit of Mt. Crumpit : That Christmas “came without ribbons; it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” And the very best way to arrive at this insight is to keep a holy Advent.
The twin peaks of the liturgical year are Easter and Christmas, and both of these celebrations are preceded by a period of preparation. The purple of penance must come before the gold of glory revealed in Christ’s Birth and Resurrection, and this is where the cultural and secular observance of Christmas can get in the way of a good Advent. On the radio and at the mall, Christmas has already been at our throats for some time, but today is only the first Sunday of Advent. And on December 26th when the Church is just beginning to celebrate the liturgical season of Christmas, evergreen trees will pile up on the curb and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer will disappear until next Halloween. Let’s just say STOP!
We now have four weeks in which to ponder the profound mystery of Christ coming to us for our salvation. In the past he did come to suffer and die for us. In the present he does come in Word and Sacrament to strengthen us in holiness. And in the future he will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. All three of these “advents” are part of this beautiful season of the liturgy, and if we attend to the Church’s rhythm of prayer, penance and preparation, then when Christmas Eve arrives, we will not be exhausted; we will be elated.
So, how to do this? 1) Get an Advent wreath and light it at home each night while praying the Collect from Mass that day. 2) Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly each Sunday afternoon at 5 pm here in the church. 3) Come to Mass on weekdays as often as possible during Advent. Weekday Mass has a quiet, meditative quality that steals into our hearts and minds, and Advent is deeply enriched by Mass each day. 4) Encourage your family and friends to think of things other than packages, boxes or bags. Make a donation in someone’s name to Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services. Write a letter to someone you love to tell them so. Volunteer to serve someone in need. 5) Go to Confession so that your Christmas Communion will truly be holy.
December is upon us, but another Christmas need not be at our throats. It can be in our hearts with joy beyond all telling if we prepare with a worthy Advent.